Preparing for Instruction 5: Transformative Learning

Transformative learning

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had studying adult learning theories is each time a new theory is introduced the thought that goes through my head is “Yes! This is what I want to do!” While I struggle identifying any one learning theory that represents my personal teaching philosophy, I definitely lie somewhere in the spectrum between humanism and constructivism.

Transformative learning is a growing area in adult learning.  Jack Mezirow is one theorist who has made major contributions in transformative learning. To Mezirow, transformative learning is a process by which learners use their experiences to change their perspective. The outcome is not just learning, but a change in ideas and perspective.

There are many links between transformative learning and the business world. Indeed, transformative leadership is a popular topic in leadership. One of the main drives behind this is the link between employee engagement and empowerment and the positive affect this has on business. Employers are looking to increase engagement as this increases companies competitive advantage.

The interesting things about both transformative learning and empowerment is these are not things you can force on people. You can create an environment or curriculum that enables and support it, but you cannot just transfer empowerment or transformation. This comes from the learner.

The above article discusses transformative learning in a coaching environment. I use coaching a lot for training, as a lot of the learning opportunities in my workplace are on the job. This article explains that the coaching relationship encourages transformative learning by presenting learners with a different perspective and encourages reflection.

In relation to leadership, this article suggests that coaching is more valuable than traditional techniques, as it is based on action, not routine. The increased interest in coaching might also be a reflection of changing values and needed competencies in business. Globalization and technology are requiring businesses to be more agile to keep pace. Learning agility and critical thinking therefore has more value than direct team leadership and performance management.

While coaching is used in a lot of workplaces, I think one things we need to keep in mind as practitioners is that this is a dialogue. It can be easy to rush the process—there are tons of tasks that need to be done in a day. Coaching can easily become a “do this thing this way next time”. We need to dig deeper to make this a learning opportunity. Instead of giving the answer, facilitate the discussion so that the learner reflects and finds their own way to improve.


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